This is a post-Sentinel Too story, so SPOILER ALERT! I didn't want to write this one, but my muse had a different opinion, and so.... <g>. Some of you are probably not going to make it through this one. You're going to come to a point, and say, no way. Others will probably come to the same point in the story, and quickly head to the end to make sure you can tolerate what I've done. Still, there will be the faithful few, who will slog through it because you trust me not to disappoint you. Bless you.
But I want to say thanks to all of you, whether you agree with this story or not. Your support and comments mean the world to me. Special thanks to my beta, K. I have no idea why she puts up with me.
WARNING! Character death (not the boys). Also, I'm giving this a stronger RATING of TVMA because of language and adult situations.
Since this one is over 100K, it's in two parts. Click here to go directly to PART 2.
Other episodes besides S2- parts1 & 2 are also alluded to.
Hope you enjoy, or at least feel something!
Detective Jim Ellison muttered a curse when he heard the phone ringing inside the loft. He set down the bags of groceries and pulled out his key. Although the answering machine was on, he thought it might be his roommate, partner, and friend, Blair Sandburg calling. His car could be terribly unreliable and lately, more often than not, he had to pick Blair up from the university where he was a grad student and teaching assistant.
"Ellison," he said as he finally reached the phone. It wasn't Blair. He listened closely, made the appropriate grunts, nodded a few times even though he knew the caller couldn't see him, then slowly hung up the phone. Robotically, he retrieved the groceries and closed the door. He tried to remember what he had planned to cook for dinner, but his thoughts were jumbled, thrown into a whirlwind because of the call. Better to order pizza than to burn down the apartment, he thought, before getting a beer, and heading to the balcony.
Two hours later, Blair came home. He frowned slightly when he didn't smell anything cooking. Looking around for his roommate, he saw the familiar figure out on the patio. "Forget it was your night to cook, Jim?" he asked, surprised if he had. Jim was not the type of man to forget his duties.
Jim held up a twenty. "Order something. Chinese, pizza, whatever."
Blair ignored the money and squatted down on the chair next to Jim's. When his partner's eyes refused to meet his, he knew something was wrong-- not the "I had a shitty day" wrong, but more the "I saw the doctor today" wrong. He braced himself, knowing that whatever it was, Jim didn't need him falling apart on him. "What's going on, big guy?"
"Got a call from St. Anne's."
Shit. There was only one inmate in the Seattle Facility for the Criminally Insane that they knew. "What the hell is Alex Barnes up to now?" he asked warily. Both Alex and Jim were Sentinels-- individuals with all five senses heightened. Blair was writing his doctorate on the genetically produced individuals. He had maneuvered to meet Jim, had found himself becoming Jim's Guide-- a Sentinel's companion, working as Jim's partner on the police force, and moving into Jim's spare bedroom. That should have been enough. But it wasn't. Three years later, he stumbled across Alex Barnes, a Sentinel who had no idea what she was. He had eagerly stepped in to help her...only to find out she was a master criminal who murdered as easily as she breathed. In fact, she had even murdered him. But his Sentinel had merged his spirit guide with Blair's, and had somehow managed to bring him back to life.
If it had ended there, the grad student would still be having nightmares, but it hadn't. Jim and their friend, Captain Simon Banks, had gone after Alex.... Oh, yeah. He had forgotten to mention that Alex had stolen nerve gas before she dispatched him and fled the country. Anyway, he and another cop, Megan Connor, had followed them to Sierra Verde. Although Jim was purportedly there to apprehend Alex, his behavior said otherwise. Blair had caught them in a clinch on the beach, and when Alex was about to be caught in a doublecross, Jim had warned her. Then he'd awakened one morning to find Jim had left him and Megan alone while he went after Alex. It had hurt, not only because Jim was pulling one of his typical Lone Wolf acts, but because he sort of had the idea that putting Alex in jail wasn't the topmost thing on Jim's list of "To Do"s.
To add insult to injury, he and Megan had been captured by the requisite bad guys, and Jim had gone "native" to rescue them. Inside the Temple of the Sentinels Alex had waited, along with the canisters of nerve gas which she threatened to use on all of them. It seemed that Alex had taken some kind of ancient potion in order to see "the eye of god", and wanted Jim to share the experience with her. When his Sentinel refused, Alex came up with the bright idea Jim would appreciate the experience more if he were dead. With frightening equanimity, Jim had halted her frantic turns of the canister's cap. Then he had tried to "show her the way", merging with her through this mind-blowing kiss-- well, mind-blowing from Alex's point of view, if the way she screamed afterward was any indication. It seemed that Jim too had partaken of this potion of hers, against his will, but because he used his Sentinel talents properly, because he was basically a good man, he had been able to fight the effects...fight whatever darkness this concoction brought to life. He tried to use his goodness to save her, but it was too late. Alex Barnes was taken from the temple all but wearing a straitjacket.
"Please don't tell me she's escaped, man," Blair pleaded.
"No. Nothing like that."
He waited a couple of seconds for Jim to be a bit more explicit, but when no explanation appeared to be forthcoming, he finally gave into the dread he was feeling. "What's happened to Alex, Jim?"
Blair greeted officers as he made his way to the Major Crimes bullpen located on the sixth floor of the Central Precinct in downtown Cascade. His Observer I.D. was pinned prominently to his shirt, but no one noticed it, just as they didn't notice Jim's or any "real" policeman's. To the cops at the station, he was one of them. Most of the time, he sort of smiled when that realization hit, but today, he couldn't think of one thing that would make him lose the grimace he'd had on his face all night.
"Hey, Hairboy!" Detective Henri Brown called out as Blair entered the bullpen. "How's that partner of yours?"
Blair shrugged. "He's hanging in there. The captain in?"
"Yeah. Tell Ellison we hope he's better soon."
"Will do, H." Jim had called in sick for the day. Already lying for Alex Barnes. How far would it go? He tapped on Simon's door, and was motioned in.
"Why aren't you home nursing your partner?" Simon asked as the anthropologist came in and sat down.
"Because Jim's neither sick nor at home," he said abruptly.
Simon looked at him incredulously. Jim wasn't the type to skip work to play hooky. In fact, most of the time when he was sick, he had to be forced to go home. Then he noticed the tension in the man in front of him and knew that whatever Jim was doing, his partner didn't like it one bit. "What's going on, Sandburg? Where is Ellison?"
"In Seattle. At St. Anne's."
Damn. He should have known from the tension that Alex Barnes was involved in this somehow. Blair and Jim were complete opposites, but they worked together flawlessly because of their strong friendship and Sentinel/Guide connection-- whatever the hell that was. The only time he'd seen them divided had been when Alex messed with that connection, grating on Jim's protective instincts so badly that he'd thrown Blair out of the loft because the grad student had worked with her. "Alex call him?"
"Her doctor did."
"Because Alex is pregnant."
Simon frowned. "What has that to do with Jim?" Blair stared at him patiently. It took him a few seconds to understand. "No! He can't be the father. Alex was a suspect. He wouldn't.... He couldn't have.... Shit. How did this happen? When?"
"Probably when he went missing in Mexico."
"Probably? Hell, he can't remember screwing the woman?" Of all the.... "Damn it, Sandburg! The bitch killed you, and he still slept with her?" Simon couldn't remember when he was so angry...and so disappointed. There was no one he respected more than Jim Ellison. The man didn't play by the rules on occasion, but he got his job done very well. Except when women were thrown into the mix.
"It wasn't his fault," Blair explained, although he had said the exact same thing last night when Jim told him. How the hell you could sleep with her, man? Why weren't you wringing her neck? "She drugged him several times over when he arrived at the Temple of the Sentinels. First, there was the dart, and then that shit she conjured up from the recipe on the wall."
"So this was rape?"
"This was..." Blair tried to find the words to make the captain understand. At the moment, Jim was looking pretty bad in Simon's eyes, and he didn't want that. Over the next several months, Jim was going to need all the support he could get. "Both Jim and Alex were drawn to the temple, like fish are drawn upstream or whales to a particular part of the ocean. They were also drawn to each other."
"What are you saying?"
"They had a biological imperative to mate and propagate, Simon. Remember when we had to stay in the church? Jim snuck out in the middle of the night, and I followed him."
"Without waking me? That was foolish."
Blair shrugged. "I'm the Guide, Simon. I follow the Sentinel. Anyway, I found him on the beach...with Alex. If I hadn't arrived when I did, then we could probably pinpoint the time of conception, if you get my drift."
"What happened?" The captain reached for his cache of aspirin.
"I was so freaking mad, I yelled out Jim's name, which was extremely stupid on my part, because then Alex drew Jim's gun, and aimed it at me."
"And Jim let her live?"
"He just told her no, and took the gun back."
"She let him?" The bitch was a cold-blooded murderer. He knew because he'd seen the bodies.
Blair nodded. "She seemed just as confused about it as you are. Then she went running off. And Jim was just standing there, watching her. I started to blow a gasket, but, Simon, if you could have seen the confusion in his eyes, you would have known he wasn't in control of his actions."
"Like saving her later on?" Simon had been so angry with his detective. They could have had the nerve gas, the girl, and a whole lot of other bad guys too, but Jim had revealed their hideout when he warned Alex. He had never understood why the man had taken such a risk, putting them all in direct gunfire, just to keep her from getting ambushed. Afterwards, he'd just been so glad to close the case, he hadn't pursued his friend's bout of irrational behavior. Maybe he should have. "So when she drugged him, whatever little control he had, was gone, and they did the dirty? And he doesn't remember?"
"Not clearly, no. He remembers the sting of the dart, some moments when he was drifting in and out, then he was in the pool, and she was feeding that crap to him."
"Then maybe the kid isn't his. Maybe it was this Carl person she murdered. Or the bellhop's, or any other man she may have met," Simon argued. "Tell me he's at St. Anne's having a blood test done?"
Blair sighed and pulled his fingers through his curls. "No blood test. Jim has decided to accept full responsibility for the child."
"What? With only the word of Alex Barnes as proof? He's lost it, right? Whatever that crap was that sent Alex reeling off the deep end, it's finally caught up with him, right?"
Blair laughed humorlessly. Who would have thought he and Simon would have so much in common? "Once I mastered breathing again, Jim sat me down, and explained the situation to me. Carl is dead. Alex is never seeing the light of freedom again. The only person the baby, an innocent child, has is him."
"And the state of Washington," Simon added dryly.
"Regardless of the father, Alex's baby has a good chance of being a Sentinel, Simon. Jim knows firsthand what it's like being raised by people who don't understand what that means. He can't knowingly condemn this child to that."
Simon took off his glasses, and rubbed his hand across his face. "First, he tries to save her, and now her kid. Does he know what he's getting himself into?"
Wide blue eyes met the captain's brown ones. "He's the first one to admit he doesn't. But in his mind, he has no choice. This baby isn't just a member of his tribe, Simon. This is his potential heir. This is a Sentinel protecting his young. He's not going to back down, or change his mind. He called his lawyer last night. He wants it all legal as soon as possible."
"So what is he doing at St. Anne's today?"
"Telling Alex that he'll take care of her and the baby, and letting the doctors know to contact him about everything."
Captain and observer were quiet for a few minutes. "How do you feel about this, Blair?" Simon asked softly.
"Conflicted. I hate Alex. I hate her baby. I hate Jim for wanting to take care of them. I also feel sorry for her, because somewhere along the way, her wires were scrambled. Bad homelife, bad boyfriend, something.... And they were both in the grips of powerful natural forces that were shouting at them to mate and reproduce. As for the baby...I can't really hate a baby. It's not at fault. It didn't ask for a psychopath to be its mother."
Blair sighed and slid further into the seat. "How can you fault a man for taking responsibility? All his points are valid. This child has no one, and if it is a Sentinel, then it will require special care, and who better to handle that than a Sentinel himself?"
Simon nodded. There was nothing in Jim's logic he could argue with, but, damn it, he wished there was. "What about you, son? Are you going to be able to handle this? Two bachelors sharing a loft is one thing; two men and a baby are another."
"Jim's my Sentinel, best friend, and brother, Simon. I will always stand with him," Blair vowed. "As long as you don't mind me coming to you and venting occasionally?" he added with a weak smile.
"Jim know you're telling me this?"
"I think the, 'tell Simon I said hi,' when he walked out this morning indicates he has some idea. He trusts you."
"Good. Then maybe he'll realize he can come to me too." Simon put his glasses back on and straightened in his chair. "I don't happen to like the situation, but what's done is done. Tell him he has my complete support. So do you."
"Thank you, Simon. I appreciate that, and I know he will too. Something tells me this isn't going to be the easiest pregnancy in the world," he said, as he stood and stretched.
"Pregnancy always causes some insanity, and since Alex is already there.... Keep me informed, Sandburg."
"Will do, Simon."
The weekends were visitation days at St. Anne's. Blair knew this because Jim had started the habit of driving to Seattle every Saturday morning that he wasn't scheduled to work. Did he have to make this sacrifice? In a way, yes. Alex was a handful for the staff, and while they were capable people who knew their jobs, the pregnancy made it difficult for them. The guards were reluctant to restrain her, and the medical staff couldn't dope her, so basically they all had to put up with her. Alex, both deliberately and sometimes involuntarily, usually made it as hard as possible for them.
At times she was manic, and had trouble focusing on anything, including eating. Then she could be nearly catatonic, almost as out of it as she'd been when carried out of the temple, just sitting in the corner of her room, never moving. Not a zone, but close, according to Jim. Then some days, she was just her nasty self, yelling at the staff, throwing things, threatening to snap their necks like twigs. The fact that she had done so to Carl was not lost on the staff, so they had a tendency to leave her alone on days like that. Well, they had until Jim had arrived one Saturday to find her filthy and nearly starved. Now, when she got into such a state, they called him, and he dropped everything to go be with her. Somehow he always managed to reach within her and pull out a somewhat stable personality.
So Jim appeared on Saturdays to right whatever had gone wrong in his absence, and the rest of the week was tolerated by the staff, and Alex. By the time he straggled home Saturday nights, he was wiped, drained physically and mentally. That was why Blair strived to have a hot dinner waiting for him when he dragged into the loft. This night was no exception. Just as he set the table, he heard Jim's key in the lock.
"Perfect timing, man," he called, then froze when he took in the figure slumped against the closed door. "What the hell happened to you?" He hurried over to his friend. "Killer headache, huh?" The signs were easily recognizable to the Guide-- fine lines around the mouth, a crease the size of the Grand Canyon between his eyes, and of course, the prominent jawbone. "What set this off?" he asked, his voice automatically dropping to a more tolerable whisper.
"Ran into football traffic." Today had been the first home game of the season for the Washington Huskies. The students and alumni had been quite excited. "Car horns blaring, people screaming out of sunroofs, rap music so loud the truck was vibrating," he continued, his misery etched all over his body.
"Oh, man. Here I was ready to blame Alex," Blair obliquely apologized, as he led his Sentinel to the sofa where he started massaging the tight shoulders.
"She was no picnic today either, Chief," he said as he leaned into his partner's hands. "She's reached the morning sickness stage. But, of course, with Alex, it's all-day sickness. They finally had to put in an I.V. so she wouldn't dehydrate."
"I bet she didn't like that."
"Ever since the burnout in the temple, her heightened senses have been sporadic, mostly nonexistent. But sometimes when those fried circuits manage to support a current or two, she has no control whatsoever. Add to that the fact, according to the doctor, often a woman's hormones during pregnancy can make her hyper-sensitive. Well, touch was the spiking sense of the day, so when they inserted the needle, it was as if they were impaling her. She screamed so loudly that I had to dial my hearing down to zero. I finally talked her through finding her own dial, but then her paranoia kicked in, and she was convinced they were pumping her full of poison to kill her and the baby. It took all my wheedling skills-- thanks for the lessons, by the way-- to talk her out of removing the I.V. and eviscerating the staff." His eyes drifted closed as the knotted muscles eased.
"Come on and eat, man, before you fall asleep," Blair urged as his massage relaxed Jim to the point the man was yawning. He kept up a casual running monologue throughout dinner, knowing his voice comforted the older man. Then, after volunteering himself to do the dishes, he talked Jim into taking a nap on the couch, Just as Jim was going to give in to his exhaustion, the phone rang. The detective, being closest, answered.
"I'm on my way," he said sharply a few seconds later, and hung up. "Alex is having a bad reaction to the nausea medication they're giving her. I have to go."
Blair started to argue, then nodded. "I'll drive."
"Chief, no--" Jim began. He knew how Blair felt about Alex. Out of respect for those feelings, he had never asked his partner to go with him to Seattle, even when he thought a Guide was needed. Instead, he had become Alex's Guide when the hypersenses made unexpected appearances, using the skills he'd learn from Blair.
"I am not letting you drive in your condition, Jim, so don't argue. Just grab my jacket, while I get my notebook. Alex may react to the same things you do. Perhaps if we compare some of your allergies, we can find a drug that's compatible."
"Chief.... Thank you."
Blair nodded and gathered his research.
It had been three, nearly four months since he'd seen Alex, but as Blair walked into her room/cell at St. Anne's, his terror was no less than it had been that last day. Jim immediately went over to the bed where the doctor waited. He, however, stopped just inside the door, feeling safer there. Jim had had to check his weapon at the front gate; the guard on the other side of the door had not.
"She's completely non-responsive, Mr. Ellison, and we're quite stumped about it," the doctor nervously explained. "There has never been a known case of this particular drug causing someone to slip into a coma. I'm arranging a battery of neurological tests and scans to determine--"
"Hopefully, that won't be necessary, Dr. Mancini. If you would give us a few minutes alone with her..."
"Us?" the obstetrician inquired with a frown. If it wasn't for the staff, which for some reason seemed to be in awe of the detective, he wouldn't have called him at all. He was always having to remind the man that he was the doctor, not that reminding him made much of a difference. Now he had brought someone else along to dismiss and ignore his recommendations? He glanced at the long-haired man hovering at the door. So Ellison was prepared to go the holistic/herbal route, huh? Not with his patient. "I'm sorry, but as her physician--"
"Who has admitted he doesn't have any idea of what is wrong," Blair commented, as he approached the bed. He had seen the look the doctor had given him. Quack. "Surely you wouldn't be adverse to us trying a non-invasive, totally non-billable technique before all those costly tests are ordered, would you, sir? I think the state would appreciate that, not to mention any HMO with whom you may be associated."
The punk was threatening him? "Who are you?"
Jim, although focused on Alex, didn't like the tone Mancini was using. "This is my partner, Blair Sandburg."
The statement was a challenge, one from which Mancini wisely backed away. "Mr. Ellison, we have clashed over the care of your girlfriend for a month now, and quite frankly, I'm too tired tonight to get into this with you. If she is not responsive by the morning, I will schedule those procedures."
"Asshole," Blair muttered as the man stalked past him. If he'd known how to treat Mr. Ellison's girlfriend, maybe Mr. Ellison wouldn't be clashing with him. And Alex wasn't Jim's girlfriend, was she? Hell, what did you call the woman who was having your baby, even though you weren't romantically involved? A mistake, that was it. Yeah, she was Mr. Ellison's mistake, not girlfriend. "What do you need me to do, Jim?" he asked, not looking at the still figure on the bed.
Jim heard his partner's racing heartbeat and smelled his fear. "Why don't you wait by the door while I try to reach her? If her smell kicks in, your unfamiliar scent might bother her."
Blair obeyed for a moment, but couldn't resist getting a closer look as Jim linked his hands with Alex's, then gently tried to coax her out of the fugue the medicine had sent her into. He was surprised, and pleased, as he heard his words spill from Jim's mouth. You actually hear me, don't you? When you're zoned, I'm never really sure what pulls you out-- my voice, my scent, my touch. But whatever it is, you do hear me. That's really nice to know, big guy.
Fifteen minutes later, Jim sighed and dropped Alex's hands. "I'm not having any luck, Chief. I know I have no right to ask this--"
"Then don't ask," Blair interrupted. "Just move aside." He was sort of shocked when he got his first good look at her. She was much thinner than she had been and without sunlight, her skin had paled, her closed eyelids almost transparent. Her hair was longer, but far too thin and brittle. He took a deep breath and let it out. This was not the woman who had tried to kill him; this was a stranger. "Alex, I need you to listen to my voice. Come on back, Alex. You're needed here. Your baby needs you..."
Twenty minutes and no response. "I'm sorry, Jim," he said, and was surprised to find he meant it. Alex had been catatonic before, and the doctors had succeeded in finding the right treatment (drugs, as usual) to bring her out. But treatment at this stage of pregnancy could result in miscarriage or fetal abnormalities.
Jim brushed his hand across his hair in frustration. "Let's try one more thing, Chief." He linked his hands back with Alex's. "Now, give it your best shot."
Ten minutes later, Alex jerked, then opened her eyes. She was dazed and disconcerted, but awake. Her first question was about the baby, and as Jim maneuvered their hands over the almost imperceptible mound that was their child, Blair slipped out of the room. He had mumbled something about alerting the medical staff, but in reality, he had left in order to breathe. For the first time, the situation was real to him. Jim and Alex were inexorably bound together. He had felt the bond as their hands linked, and somehow Jim had made her respond to his Guide. Whatever the hell had happened in those pools at the temple, whatever they had shared, was still going on.
"The baby is fine," Jim said, relieved as he joined Blair in the visitor's room a half hour later.
"I would've thought they would have to run a series of tests before they could determine that."
"We, uh, checked him out ourselves," Jim admitted.
"It's a boy. Alex has named him David. She says she wants her son strong enough to slay the evil giants that made her into what she is."
"David," Blair repeated tonelessly.
"David Joseph Ellison. She wanted James, but I didn't. So we compromised with my middle name."
The baby had a sex, and a name. "Why hadn't you told me this, Jim?"
Jim glanced at the hideous floral print on the wall. "You didn't want to know, Chief."
Blair had to admit Jim was right; he hadn't wanted to know anything about his partner's unholy alliance with his truly mortal enemy. But the woman in that bed wasn't his enemy, and the baby she carried, David Joseph Ellison, was part of Jim-- if not by blood, then by heart. "I want to know now, Jim. I want to know what you know about David, and how you know it. I want you to tell me about the connection you have with Alex, the little hand thing you do, everything."
On the way home, Jim explained how both he and Alex could feel the outline of their child, feel his little heart beating, sense the blood course through the tiny body that barely resembled a body. Then he talked about his link to Alex. Just as in the temple, when their hands touched, they became one. His heightened senses expanded to become hers, giving her the ability to monitor the child as easily as he did. When the staff had trouble calming her, Jim used the link to find her center. When she wouldn't eat, he reached inside and dragged her more sensible side to the surface.
"How did they manage her without you?" Blair wondered aloud.
"Drugs," he replied with a shrug. "But now that she's pregnant.... Did you show that list to the doctor?"
"Yeah, but he wasn't too impressed. I don't particularly like him."
"I don't either. But he was assigned to her, and there's not a lot I can say about it."
Blair shrugged. "I'll give you a copy of my drug study. Maybe he'll listen to you the next time you visit. I'm sure if you employ that patented Ellison glare, he'll readjust his attitude. Jim?" He looked over to see the Sentinel had fallen asleep in the middle of the conversation. Guess supporting three people with one body can be draining. Especially when the person who's supposed to be supporting you, falls down on the job. Never again, my friend. Never again.
He turned the radio down and continued driving.
The park was full of falling leaves as Blair and Jim walked through it on a rare, sunshiny day in Cascade. It had been a while since the partners had free time together. Jim had been changing shifts with the other detectives to have all his Saturdays off, leaving the roommates to either greet each other in passing, or running off to investigate a crime. The detective had been pleasantly surprised to find that he had this day off. Blair smiled and secretly thanked Simon, who had made the "coincidence" happen.
"I'm glad we have today together, Chief," Jim began.
"Yeah, it's nice to be able to talk without a dead body between us, or you about to pass out on your feet while I get ready for the university. You work the night shift way too often."
"I know. But I need, Alex needs, the Saturdays. The hormones are playing havoc with her senses, even when they're in a normal state. She can zone on the littlest things now. The staff thinks she's manic, but she confessed to me that she deliberately keeps her mind jumping from this to that, hoping to keep in the here and now. She's frightened what they'll do to her if they find out about her little side trips."
"Frightened as in paranoid, or frightened as in she knows something you don't?"
"She thinks they slip drugs to her."
"Do they?" He wouldn't be surprised if they did; modern psychiatry, hell, modern medicine period, relied too heavily on pharmaceuticals, in his opinion.
"I don't know. I wouldn't put it past Mancini. That's why.... Shit, Blair. I don't know how to tell you this."
He froze. Jim had called him Blair. Something was terribly wrong. Again. "What is it, Jim? Just spit it out, okay?"
"I asked Alex to marry me."
Blair was thankful no one was on the same trail as they were. Because if they had been, they would have seen him lose his lunch at the base of some evergreen bushes. As he looked away from the mess he'd made, Jim reached him a handful of tissues-- a necessity for an allergy-prone Sentinel. An herbal throat drop was also part of the necessities.
"Sorry about that," Blair mumbled as the lozenge covered up the aftereffects in his mouth.
"After watching Alex go through morning sickness, that was nothing, Chief."
Alex. "What did she say?"
"Alex. You asked her to marry you. What did she say?"
Because Blair had nothing left in his stomach, he merely swayed. Jim allowed him to lean against him until he regained his equilibrium. "Why? The baby's already going to have your name, right?"
"I need the clout to oversee Alex's care. You were right, Chief. Mancini is an asshole, but there's nothing I can do about him at the moment. I'm not a family member, per se. Sure, I'm listed as the baby's father, but it's Alex I'm concerned about right now. The last time I visited, she had sores on her legs. She said the sheets bothered her. I asked Mancini to medically advise that her bedding be washed separately from the others. He declined. I ended up bribing one of the housekeeping staff into washing her sheets at home, and bringing them in the next day."
"Have you talked to the warden, or whatever?"
Jim shook his head. "I'm already pushing it. It's only because I'm a cop that I get to see her as easily as I do. And I'm fairly certain the reason why I'm allowed unsupervised in her room is because it makes her easier to deal with. That could be pulled at any moment."
"She is a criminal, Jim," Blair said, regretting the words as soon as they exited his mouth.
"I know what she is. But she's also carrying my baby. I won't allow her to suffer."
"I wouldn't expect you to," Blair replied softly. "Jim, is it your baby? Do you know that for certain?"
Jim closed his eyes and took a deep breath. "In my heart, I accepted David as mine the very first time I 'felt' him, Chief. That's all that matters to me. If he wants a blood test done somewhere down the line, fine. But I'm satisfied...and certain."
The baby was Jim's in Jim's eyes, therefore Blair let the subject drop forever. "For David to be healthy, his mother has to be healthy, and in order to make that possible, you have to marry Alex," he rattled off, forcing his head to understand what his heart already had accepted.
"Yes," Jim replied, knowing that his decision hurt Blair, but also knowing he had no choice.
Blair nodded. "When's the ceremony?"
"Damn it, Jim! That's when I have to proctor the graduate entrance exam." It was a revolving responsibility among the teaching assistants.
"I know, Chief, but I want to get this done as quickly as possible." He placed his hand on his friend's shoulder. "Don't worry. I won't get another best man. We'll just have a couple of the staff members act as witnesses. It'll be fine."
Blair sighed. "I feel like I'm letting you down, man."
"You aren't. It's not like it's going to be some joyous occasion. It's just a necessity."
But Blair knew it would be more than just a necessity to Jim. Once he took the vows, he would mean them. Ladies and gentlemen, as of Saturday, Jim Ellison is officially off the market. Time for your daughters to weep. And because Alex would never be strong enough to take care of her own needs, he would never divorce her. Damn. How much shit did one man have to go through in a lifetime? "No chance that this will be a marriage in name only?" he tossed out, trying to make sure Jim understood the full ramifications of this commitment.
"You know me, Chief."
Yes, I do. But that won't stop me from giving it another try while there's still time. "So you know exactly what you'll be giving up for an indefinite amount of time, perhaps even forever? Unless you're planning on conjugal visits at St. Anne's?"
Jim shook his head. "That urge is gone. Maybe it had something to do with the proximity of the temple, or maybe now that we've done our duty and multiplied, nature is satisfied."
"She won't appreciate your sacrifice."
"I have to live with myself...and my son."
Give it up, Sandburg. The man has made his decision. Now, all you can do is support it. "I wish I could be there, standing up for you, Jim."
"You'll be there, Chief," Jim said, laughing as Blair stared at him. "Don't you know I always carry a piece of you with me wherever I go?"
His partner smiled. "So that's why I feel like I'm missing something when we're apart. I thought it was just my imagination."
Jim shook his head. "No. I figure if I take part of you with me, I have a reason to return, and if I can't, I know you'll come looking."
They had survived Alex before; they would again. Blair put his hand against Jim's back as they continued their walk. "I'll always come looking, Jim."
"That, Chief, has always been my saving grace."
"Come on, Simon," Blair urged as they made it through the series of checkpoints to get into the most secure area of St. Anne's. "The ceremony is scheduled to start at two o'clock, and it's already five till."
"Look, Sandburg, you already had me set a new land speed record to get here on time. If we hadn't had to stop and pick up the boutonnieres--"
Blair fingered the silk flower attached to his lapel by rubberized glue; no pins (or other sharp objects) allowed in the asylum. "If I had picked them up earlier, Jim would have seen them, and it would have spoiled the surprise."
"I could have gotten them," Simon pointed out.
"Great. Now you tell me," Blair groaned. "Come on, man. I can be a little frazzled. It isn't every day my best friend gets married. In a maximum security facility at that."
"Thank God," Simon added prayerfully. He had been shocked when Jim had informed him of the upcoming nuptials. In his opinion, Alex Barnes was getting her grip way too deep into his detective. But he hadn't told Jim that; he had merely wished him the best, then gotten Blair on the phone.
"Hi, Dr. Mancini. I don't know if you remember me. I'm Blair Sandburg," he said, as the doctor appeared.
"Mr. Ellison's friend, right?"
"Yes, sir. We haven't missed the ceremony, have we?"
"No, that particular travesty hasn't started yet."
"I beg your pardon?" Simon remarked gruffly.
"Who are you?" The obstetrician wasn't in the best of moods. Ms. Barnes was a difficult patient on her best days and her boyfriend/bridegroom-to-be made the situation ten times worse. The Seattle A.M.A. should be shot for forcing its members to perform community hours. Next time, he'd volunteer to work at a halfway house; at least its denizens were only semi-crazy.
"Captain Simon Banks, Cascade P.D."
"Mr. Ellison's boss?"
Mancini brightened. "So, I assume you're here to stop this nonsense, right? It certainly can't be doing your department any good to have a detective married to a killer. Just because he feels guilty for knocking her up--" The doctor didn't say anything else, unless the small squawk he emitted counted, as he found himself dangling in the air.
"I am here," Simon said, quite distinctly, "to stand up for my friend who is marrying the lady of his choice today. If you don't like it, I suggest you don't be here." He dropped the petrified man back to the floor.
"Now I know why Jim was muttering something about the perfect way to dispose of a body the other day," Blair murmured loud enough for Mancini to hear.
"I think they have the wrong people locked up around here," the doctor called as he backed away.
"I'm pretty sure of it," Blair agreed.
"Good for the two of you," one of the nurses, who had been listening, said as the doctor exited the scene. "I know a good O.B. if you'd like me to contact her."
"I think Mr. Ellison would like that," Simon said, hoping Jim hadn't been fond of the one they had just managed to get rid of. He thought of the man's attitude and realized Jim couldn't have possibly liked the man. He was also starting to understand why Jim felt the need to marry Alex. Speaking of.... "Where are the bride and groom?"
"Getting prettied up...at least the bride is. The groom's already pretty enough." She smiled and stuck out her hand. "Georgia Reynolds. I sorta run this floor when the inmates aren't. I couldn't help but hear your names. Mr. Ellison put you both down as contacts in case something happened."
Yeah, like if Alex decided to up and kill him one day. "Nice to meet you, Ms. Reynolds," Blair said, covering up his dark thought.
"Any friends of Mr. Ellison's are friends of mine, and most of the weekend staff as well. He's a real sweet man. So patient and kind." Blair and Simon exchanged glances. Who was she talking about? "Ms. Barnes can be a handful at times, but he doesn't seem to mind one bit. She wanted pizza one week, so he went out and got five pizzas. Told everyone on duty to enjoy them. Of course, she dumped hers all over him. Did the same thing with the Chinese he got the next week. That was awfully good. Didn't know Seattle had that kind of Chinese food. Mr. Ellison say he just smelled it and knew it was tasty. So, you two here for the wedding? Ain't that nice? He will be real glad you're here. Just about all the staff that's free is already in the chapel. Figured it was the least we could do for him. You know, he came in here with silk flowers, just like you're wearing. Guess you know about their his-and-her allergies, huh? And he also brought this beautiful dress for her. Shoes and undergarments too. Such a sweet man." A buzzer went off. "Let me see what this patient wants. My relief better get here. I am not going to miss the wedding," she griped as she sashayed down the hall.
"And you talk about me running my mouth," Blair protested laughingly. "But hey, at least now we know Jim is a sweet man."
Simon shook his head. "Can't imagine Jim in a dress shop."
"Not the first time, Simon. Remember Stacey Neumann, the girl who was in a coma all those years? He bought her a dress."
"For real. She was so grateful, she got a crush on him."
"Maybe he is a sweet man.... He just doesn't bring it to work with him."
Before Blair could comment, Jim walked out of a room and looked at them. "I thought I heard.... What are you guys doing here?"
"It's your wedding day, Jim. Where else would we be?" Blair answered reasonably.
"But what, Ellison?" Simon interrupted. Jim closed his mouth. "Where's your lovely bride?"
Jim stepped back into the room, and walked out with Alex on his arm. She was wearing a lace-overlaid, ivory, tea-length dress with medium-heeled matching shoes. Her hair was braided down her back, with ivory ribbons plaited throughout and she was wearing make up. Blair shuddered as he faced this Alex, who was closer to the one who had killed him.
She must have sensed his shiver, because she focused a cold blue gaze on him. "I know you," she said abruptly.
When Jim started to speak, Blair shook his head. "Yes, you do, Alex."
She cocked her head to one side. "You were at the temple."
"Yes, I was."
Alex looked at Jim. "They are friends of yours?"
She smiled. "Then welcome to our wedding. Jim says I'm beautiful. Do you think I'm beautiful?"
Blair forced himself to smile. "Yes, Alex, you are very beautiful."
She looked at Simon. "You are so beautiful," he said, "that I would like to escort the bride down the aisle."
She turned to Jim. "Would that be okay?"
He patted her hand. "That would be fine. Blair and I will be waiting with the minister in the chapel, okay?"
Alex nodded and watched Jim walk away with the man she vaguely knew. He smelled of fear, but she didn't know why. "He is a very good man."
"Yes, he is," Simon agreed as they waited for the wedding march to begin. Apparently, one of the staff could play the piano.
She placed a hand on the gentle swelling of her stomach. "He will make a fine father."
The song began and the wedding went without a hitch, although people were puzzled when the minister called Alex by her real, and legal, name-- Angela Bonniere. Jim was taking no chances that the marriage wouldn't be recognized somewhere down the line. He said his vows without hesitation, listened to her repeat hers, then they exchanged rings and for the second time, there was another Mrs. James Ellison. In his heart, he knew this would be the last.
A small reception had been set up in the visitor's room, and the bride and groom received their guests, until the groom decided the bride had had enough. He sat her down, and went in search of the punch. Blair saw her sitting alone and decided to join her. It had thrown him that she didn't know him, didn't remember hitting him on the head, and drowning him in the fountain. How could she not remember?
As he took the chair beside her, he noticed a small furrow between her eyes. "Are you all right, Alex?"
"Your senses?" She looked at him in panic. "It's okay, Alex. I know about you and Jim. I know you're Sentinels," he whispered quickly.
She blinked. "I think he told me that. I haven't used my senses, but.... Can you keep a secret?" Blair nodded. "I have a darkness in me, and she wanted to come out and play today. But I was not going to let her ruin this day for him, for my Jim. I have been fighting her all day and that is why my head hurts. If I can hold on a little longer, I will win. It will be time for him to leave, and he won't have to know."
"This darkness...does it want to hurt the baby?" Blair asked quickly, but gently.
"No. David is off-limits. No one harms the baby. Ever."
"Is everything all right?" Jim asked as he hurried over to them. At first, he'd heard Blair's heart racing. Then Alex's had followed.
"I think Alex is a little tired," Blair explained, hearing the unasked question in Jim's voice. Alex looked at him gratefully.
"I think you're right, Chief. Ready to turn in?" She nodded. "Want me to read to you?"
"Read to David."
"Okay. We'll read one of David's books."
"Then you go. Have a good time with your friends."
"Okay. But would it be all right if I come see you tomorrow?"
"Tomorrow is Sunday."
"I got a room in a motel. I thought I would stay overnight, and visit with you tomorrow."
She reached out a finger and ran it along his jaw. "I think I would like that."
"Good. Blair, you and Simon can hang around a bit?"
"We'll be here, Jim. Take your time." He watched them leave, a bemused look on his face.
"Problems, Sandburg?" Simon took the seat beside him.
"No. Jim's putting Alex to bed, then we'll go to dinner or something. He's staying over, so he can spend tomorrow with her."
"Oh. But that's not really what I'm asking."
Blair shook his head and touched his ear. "Not here." He'd never fully tested Alex's hearing, and he had no idea what enhancements she may have received in the temple. All of Jim's levels had increased.
An hour later, he was climbing into Jim's truck, Simon following in his car. He looked at his friend, so solemn, yet dignified, in his best suit. Married. And taking his buddies to dinner. "Hell of a wedding night," he murmured, then cursed himself for speaking out loud. Jim didn't need to be reminded of the sacrifices he'd made.
"Do you know how much this means to me?" Jim said softly as he backed out of the parking space. "That you and Simon are here? Somehow this doesn't seem as...futile as it did earlier."
"You were having doubts?"
"As to why I was marrying Alex, no. But as to actually being married to her, yeah. I mean, I got married for what people generally consider to be the 'right' reasons last time, and look how it ended. This time I'm marrying for what-- power, control? And to really complicate things, this marriage will involve a child. You know how in the Bible, one of the kings saw the handwriting on the wall? That's what I was seeing, Chief, until you and Simon showed up."
"And what did the writing say, Jim?"
"One word: DOOMED!"
"Jim?" Blair asked anxiously, reaching out to lay his hand on the muscular arm.
"I'm okay, Chief...now." He turned into the parking lot of a Chinese restaurant.
"So this is where the sweet man got that delicious Chinese food?" Simon remarked as they walked inside.
Jim laughed. "So you met Georgia Reynolds, did you? That woman is a godsend. Just when you think nothing is ever going to make you laugh again, she says something to crack you up."
That was telling. Simon glanced at Blair sadly, and they made a silent pact to keep things light. "Speaking of cracking up, did you hear about Brown and Rafe helping Vice with a raid the other night?"
Dinner was interrupted many times as laughter made swallowing difficult, but they finally finished and Jim headed to his motel, while Simon and Blair hit the highway toward Cascade. They were both silent for a long time, each lost in thoughts of their friend. "I think he was really glad to see us," Simon began.
"Yeah. It was worth losing my tickets to the Jags' first home game." That was the price Charlie Phillips had demanded for proctoring the test for him. "Maybe he can remember those stories we told him when he's dealing with her tomorrow."
"What do you mean?"
"She told me she had a darkness in her and that by sheer strength of will, she was holding it back today in order not to disappoint him. But I think tomorrow, tomorrow will be a different story."
"Shit. You warn him?"
"He's so attuned to her, I'm sure he already knows. Probably why he's staying; doesn't want the staff to suffer."
"What about his own suffering?"
Blair shrugged. "Penance for whatever he's feeling guilty about at the moment."
"It's not his fault she's in the nuthouse. And she was a murderous little thief before he even knew she existed. If it wasn't for the baby..."
"But the baby exists, Simon. Even us non-sentinels could see it today. At least he doesn't have to worry about that," he said, sighing.
"Worry about what?"
"Alex hurting the baby. When I asked her if the darkness wanted to hurt the baby, she was pretty adamant. 'No one harms the baby, ever', she told me quite clearly."
"What else did she tell you, Sandburg? One time there, you looked a little shell-shocked."
Blair bit his lip. "She doesn't remember me, Simon, from before her experience in the temple. She doesn't remember killing me."
"But you remember."
"Yes. Especially when I saw her today, all made up and dressed. I remember every moment in her presence. I remember everything she did to me and Jim. I remember seeing my things boxed up in the loft. I remember him telling me he couldn't trust me. I remember her walking into my office, marching me outside, then knocking me out at the fountain. I remember coming back to life, the aches and pains from the CPR. I remember Sierra Verde, seeing Jim kissing her on the beach, and hating him for it. I remember, Simon. Why doesn't she? Why does she get to forget, and I have to live with it? And I'm always going to have to live with it because I'm going to be helping to raise her spawn!" He realized what he'd just said, and stopped, appalled at what had spewed out.
"God, Simon. I can't be around that baby if I'm going to feel this way, can I?" he asked sadly. "What am I going to do? With the baby as a distraction, Jim's probably going to need a Guide more than ever. I can just see him bending over the crib, trying to figure out what's making David cry, and zoning on his son. Or maybe he'll hear him crying right in the middle of a shootout with some criminal. I can't leave my Sentinel in the cold like that."
"Then you're going to have to learn to accept David as his own being, as Jim's son, and no one else's."
"What if I can't?"
Simon smiled, knowing firsthand the power of a child. "Sandburg, when that baby is born, and you look over in that bassinet, things are going to be a whole lot different. Listen to me, if you can look at that tiny being, and tell him to his face that you hate him because of his mother, that's the time you start worrying about what you're going to do, okay?"
"You seem so sure, Simon," Blair said, hoping the captain knew what he was talking about.
"I am sure, Sandburg. You'll see."
Blair prayed he would.
Before Jim could fully stop, as he careened into the parking garage at the station, Inspector Megan Connor, formerly of the Australian police force, but on loan to Cascade, was hopping into the passenger's seat. "You're late."
"Very observant, Connor." He circled around the lot. "Where are we headed?"
"Someone looted the Cascade Galleria last night. Morning crew came in to find most of the stores ransacked. Everyone else is already on the scene."
"And you waited for me? How sweet," he dead-panned.
"I thought maybe you were having problems with your Sentinel abilities." She had learned of them when she and Blair had followed Jim and Captain Banks to Sierra Verde to apprehend a very nasty criminal named Alex Barnes.
"No, I just overslept." He'd gotten a call last night that Alex hadn't eaten anything in two days, and was threatening anyone who came near her with an I.V. So, he'd driven to Seattle, convinced her to eat the Wonder Burger he'd picked up on the way, gave her a bath, read to her, and finally made it back to Cascade, where he'd fallen asleep on the sofa until Blair had awakened him.
"Getting sloppy in your old age, detective?" Megan asked in surprise. Although Jim was quite insufferable at times, he was usually one of the most disciplined men she knew.
"Something like that."
The only words spoken for the next two hours was in cop shorthand as the detectives went through the ravaged stores while the proprietors put together lists of missing and damaged items. Then they all went back to the bullpen to compare notes. Brown asked Jim for the list of goods taken from the engraving shop and Jim distractedly handed it to him, then went back to transforming the peculiar markings, hastily scrawled across his pocket notepad, into legible, bona fide police notes. As he tried Sentinel sight to decipher one bizarre little curlicue, which he was sure was an important fact, someone tentatively tapped him on the shoulder. He looked around to see Joel Taggert standing beside him. Joel was ranked a captain, but had transferred to Major Crimes from the Bomb Unit and was now to all extent and purposes-- except to Payroll-- a rookie detective.
"What's up?" Jim asked companionably. He was sort of the captain's training officer, and although the man was skilled in investigation, the required paperwork in Major Crimes took a while to get used to.
"Can we see you in the break room for a minute, Jim?" the large Black man asked. Well, not so large now. Without the stress of working with bombs, Joel had been able to concentrate on his health, which included shedding several unnecessary pounds.
"We?" Jim looked around and saw that a few familiar faces were missing. Ah. "The gang". Probably had something to do with the semi-weekly poker game. "Sure. Hold on a sec." His mind finally translated the stray mark, and he dutifully recorded it before heading to the break room. Still feeling the effects of his midnight run to Seattle, he hoped someone had bothered to put on a new pot of coffee.
The countenances that greeted him were rather grim, and the heartbeats oddly fast. This was definitely not about poker. "Something going on, guys?"
"You tell us," Brown's partner, Rafe, said softly.
Jim stiffened suspiciously. "We have a multi-robbery that's not going to get solved while we're in here playing guessing games, so cut to the chase."
"What's that on your hand?" Brown asked, when it seemed as if no one was going to reply.
Jim looked down, honestly puzzled, until he saw the gold wedding band encircling the fourth finger on his left hand. Shit. He'd forgotten to take it off when he'd returned from St. Anne's. He always donned it when he visited Alex. In her mind, the band marked him as hers, and it soothed and calmed her. How the hell had he not noticed it as he showered and dressed? Probably because he had raced through both. How in the world did I make Cop of the Year, when I can't even detect what's on my own finger?
He looked at the waiting detectives, his waiting friends. What to tell them? Some lie about using it to ditch some psycho-bitch who had latched onto him? The sad thing about that lie was that it was easily believable. His luck with women was usually that bad.... Let's see. There was Lila-- the hitwoman, and that thief-chick whose pheromones had him humping after her.... Oh, yeah. They would definitely believe him. But in a few months, he was going to be bringing a son home, and there was no way in hell he was going to lie about him.
Being the good soldier that he was, Jim stopped in his tracks and built a fortress. It was considerably weaker than the one Blair had demolished with enviable skill, but it would do in a pinch. He forced his jaw to relax, and leaned back against a table. "Oh, yeah. I got married." Jaws dropped. Apparently, they had been primed for the lie, he thought dryly.
"Married?" Brown managed to mumble, wondering if that was why Ellison had been running late earlier. "When?"
"You didn't tell us?" Joel asked, trying not to sound hurt.
Crack. The fortress formed a stress fracture. "It was a small affair. No invitations were sent out or anything."
"You still could have told us, Jim. We thought we were your friends," Rafe chided.
Plop. A cinder block fell, messing up the aesthetics of the fortress, but the walls held. "It was nothing personal, guys. It was a sudden decision, and under the circumstances, I just thought it best to keep it low-key."
"What circumstances would those be, Jim?" the brassy Aussie asked, pouncing on the words as if he was a suspect she was interrogating.
Jim shrugged, steel jaw in place. "The ceremony took place in a hospital."
They looked at each other in shame. He could read the pity in their eyes. What had ol' noble Ellison done now? Married some poor dying woman? Started his own private "Make A Wish Foundation", making dreams come true for the pathetic creatures who had zero percent chance of survival? He wanted to laugh at them, mock their stupid loyalty. He didn't deserve it; he never had. It was time they realized it.
"My wife is a resident of St. Anne's in Seattle."
It took a moment for the name to sink in. "That's a..." Brown began and stopped.
Megan just barged ahead with her thought. "Isn't that where Alex Barnes is incarcerated?"
He decided to make it easy on them. "Alex Ellison now."
Even as his fists clenched around one of the turrets, he felt the fortress start to crumble. "Go ahead and finish it, Rafe. Yes, Alex is the one who left Sandburg to drown in the fountain. But she's also the one having my baby." The silence in the room was even startling to a Sentinel. Then the heartbeats started racing again. Anger. He could smell it as it grew.
Brown reached flashpoint first. "So, Ellison, you fuck her before or after she killed your partner?"
Poof! The fortress disappeared, leaving Jim vulnerable to the approaching army. He did the only thing he could possibly do in the situation-- he retreated. "Uh, forensics is waiting on some stuff I have." He turned to leave, but it wouldn't be that easy.
"Answer me, damn it!" Brown spat out, grabbing his arm. "That man has taken tons of shit from you for years now. You think we haven't noticed? Hell, I'll give you credit for standing up for him, for watching his back, for protecting him from outside forces. But who protected him from you, Ellison? When you were in a bad mood? Or you just felt like taking your shitty life out on him?"
Rafe decided to back his partner. "We watched it, man, so there's no use lying about it. You yelled at him, shoved him, ignored him, glared at him. We saw it all. And what the hell went on when we all worked the night shift that night, huh? The tension between the two of you was thick enough to cut with a knife. Then you started on that robbery of the security system plans-- Damn, that involved the Barnes bitch too, didn't it? You saw her murder a man on tape, for Christ's sake!"
"And he still jumped her ass," Brown said disgustedly. "So, were you doing her before and after, Jimbo? Were you pumping it into her when she explained how she hit your supposed best friend over the head and shoved him into the water? Did you get off on her describing how his last breath sounded? Just how badly did you betray him, man?"
Jim took a deep breath, and prepared to retaliate against his enemies. Damn the retreat, fortresses, whatever. If they wanted a fight, that was what they were going to get...except that when he faced the opposing forces, he saw friends, not enemies. These guys, and Megan, had stood beside him during battle. More importantly, they had protected Sandburg when he couldn't. And that was all they were doing now...protecting Blair-- from his greatest enemy. Acknowledging that he was defenseless, that even truth was against him, he yielded. "After, Henri. I was with her after she had killed the security guard, after she had killed Blair, after she had stolen the nerve gas, and tried to sell it to the highest bidder," he admitted softly. "You see, I didn't just betray my partner, I betrayed the whole fucking world. But I won't compound the problem by betraying my son. Even someone as despicable as I am, won't go but so low." When Brown's hand released his arm, he walked out, shutting the door quietly behind him.
"Who the hell was that?" Rafe whispered, confused by Jim's sudden, and painfully honest, confession.
"A lost man," Joel said, having watched the emotions play in Jim's eyes. They had misjudged him somewhere, had jumped to the wrong conclusions along the way. And they had made a serious mistake.
"Lost hell," Brown argued. "He seemed to have found his dick when he needed it."
"How could he do this to Sandy?" Megan asked, calling Blair by the nickname only she used.
"I doubt he was thinking about Sandburg at that particular moment," Brown pointed out.
"I think we all need to calm down," Joel counseled. "Take a step back and see all the angles--"
"What angles?" Rafe questioned. "We were at the fountain, Taggert, you weren't. You didn't see Blair laid out on the ground, the paramedics giving up on him." It had all seemed so surreal. Everyone had been crying, except for Ellison. He had been angry at Blair, even then.
"Maybe I wasn't there. But Jim was."
"Which makes what he's done twice as bad in my book," Brown declared.
The captain tried again. "The man who just walked out of here didn't seem like the type who would...voluntarily sleep with the woman who'd hurt his partner."
"But he did. He admitted it. Hell, there's a baby on the way to prove it," Brown said.
"She also tried to kill Ellison," Megan reminded them. "If that didn't stop him from boffing her, why should what she did to Sandy stand in his way?"
Joel shook his head. "I may be the newest detective in this crowd, but I'm telling you, we're overlooking something important here. We all know Jim. We all know what Blair means to him. Sure, they've had problems, but we've all had problems with our partners. Hell, Brown, you didn't speak to Rafe for a week after that piece of fluff you picked up at the racetrack decided to dump you for him. But then she dumped him, and everything was cool. Just like it's obviously cool between Jim and Blair now."
"Hairboy is a good actor and Ellison, hell, how expressive is a piece of granite anyway?"
"That's not fair, Henri," Joel chastised. "Jim has been a good friend to you, and if you want to toss around the word betrayal--"
"Hey, guys! Jim around?"
They all jumped as Blair stuck his head inside the break room in search of his partner. Immediately, he noticed the tension. Uh oh. Something else was wrong? He was getting tired of this. "What's the matter? Where's Jim? Has something happened to him?" he asked quickly. When no one answered, his heart leapt to his throat. "Somebody better speak up before I freak here."
Joel came over to him, clasping his shoulder sympathetically. "We saw Jim's wedding ring."
Blair closed his eyes and muttered a curse. "He was running so late this morning.... What did he tell you?"
"That he married the woman who left you to die. That she's having his child," Brown replied, his voice ice cold.
Blair stared at him, and his heart broke for Jim. The loss of the respect of his friends and co-workers would kill him."Damn it. Did all of you react this way?"
"What other reaction could we have, Sandy?"
"Congratulations would have been nice," Blair replied bitterly.
"Congratulations? The bitch killed you, Sandburg," Brown said angrily.
"You think I don't know that? You think he doesn't know that?"
"Then why the hell did he fuck her!"
Blair took a few seconds to control his breathing. There was enough negative energy in the room. And he had to figure out where his partner was. "He wasn't in control of his actions," he explained distractedly. Where would Jim go? The gym, maybe? He apparently hadn't taken his aggression out on his friends. Everyone seemed to be in one piece.
"When the hell has Ellison ever not been in control of his actions?" Rafe demanded to know.
"The drugs," Megan said softly. "Barnes drugged him at that jungle temple. She gave him the same stuff that sent her bonkers."
"Is that what happened, Blair?" Joel asked gently. "Was he under the influence when he...?"
Blair nodded. The drugs, primitive urges...yes, he had definitely been under the influence. "Did you bother to ask him why he slept with her? Did you even try to figure out the motive for his actions? Did you even get around to wondering why I was still his partner, if he had-- what's the word?"
"Betrayal was mentioned," Joel supplied.
Blair paled. "You accused Jim of betraying me? How could you do that to him?"
"We were just so angry that he could do that to you," Brown tried to explain. "We didn't know about the drugs," he glared at Megan, "and he's the one who agreed that he had betrayed you--"
"Shit!" Blair glared balefully at his friends. "I was the first one he talked to when he found out about the pregnancy. I was the one who drove him to Seattle in the middle of the night when Alex had a bad reaction to some medication. I was best man at his wedding. He has taken care to explain to me every decision he has made regarding Alex. Let me say this once and for all-- he has never betrayed me with this woman!"
Shit," Brown murmured, his eyes catching the other detectives'. Jim was such a proud man. For him to have been drugged and-- used-- against his will.... And then they had laid into him like they had. Double shit.
"The drugs explain the baby, but did he have to marry her?" Megan argued. The bitch was in jail; she couldn't have contested his custody of the child.
Rafe nodded, understand this part very clearly. "Jim's sense of honor would allow him to do no less," he told her. He had always admired that about Jim; honor had never been just a word to him.
Blair didn't bother to correct them about the motive of the marriage. He had other concerns. "Where is Jim now?" he asked urgently.
"That's what I want to know," Simon said, as he entered the small room. He'd noticed the group missing from the bullpen and had assumed all were together. . But his best detective seemed to have been misplaced.
Blair smiled sadly at the captain. "Jim forgot to take off his wedding ring before he came in."
"And my curious detectives decided to interrogate him," Simon surmised. The guilty faces before him confirmed it. Damn. Their reaction was just as bad as Jim had predicted it would be. He, however, had argued they were more understanding than the detective was giving them credit for. Should have known Jim understood human nature better than he did. "Were you here, Sandburg?"
"No. That's why I need to know where he went."
"He said something about forensics," Joel said quietly. He touched Blair's arm. "We didn't mean to make things worse for Jim. We were just shocked, and concerned about you."
"I know, Joel. But there was a time when you thought Jim would never hurt me. Despite what happened last spring, you need to go back to that time, man. Jim and I have."
"Sandy, about last spring? That was all mixed up with the Barnes woman too, wasn't it? Was she drugging him before Sierra Verde?"
"Something like that," Blair said vaguely. "I need to go find Jim."
"Tell him..." Brown began. "Nah, we'll tell him when we see him." Blair nodded and left.
"You knew about this, Simon?" Joel asked his friend. Then he nodded. "Of course you did. That's why you authorized all Jim's schedule changes. He can't work on Saturdays, right?"
"He drives to Seattle every Saturday and spends the day."
"We thought he was coaching a Pee Wee team or something," Rafe murmured.
"Put him back on regular rotation, captain," Brown said. "I'll work his Saturdays for him."
"Me too," Megan agreed.
"I had a cousin in one of those places," Rafe began. "Every time my aunt would go visit him, she would always be so tired the next day. Schedule me for his Sundays, captain."
"This is all well and good," Simon said. "But it doesn't make up for whatever you said to him. And, no, I don't want to know what that is. I had higher expectations of you people, you know. And I didn't think you were foolish enough to outright attack him. It's a wonder this room is still standing, along with you."
"We know, Simon. Sorry to let you down," Joel said. "And he was too hurt to fight back. That should have told us something."
Brown shook his head. "You're the only one of us that didn't tear into him, captain. If the truth is to be told, I was the ringleader in this lynch mob. I'll apologize, but I still want to work the weekends."
"All these extra hours he's been putting in to free up his Saturdays, he has to be exhausted," Joel said sympathetically.
"Maybe he needs the extra money."
"Why? The state is picking up the expenses for the Barnes woman."
"Ellison now, Brown. And they won't be paying for the baby," Rafe observed.
"We need to start a fund, maybe hold a shower or something. We can put Rhonda in charge of it," Megan suggested.
"Just a minute, people," Simon called, reminding them he was still in the room. "Ellison isn't going to appreciate being treated like a charity case."
"But maybe he'll appreciate being treated like a friend, Simon," Joel remarked, reaching in his pocket for his wallet.
Simon nodded, and reached for his wallet too.
Jim sat in his truck and pondered the fact that he had run. They had cornered him, and like the coward he was, he had snuck through the first hole he'd found, and scrambled away. Nice, Jim. Is that what you're going to teach your son? Run when you're hurt? God knows, it hasn't done you any good over the years. You ran from your father. You ran from the Army when you found out the truth about the mission to Peru. You ran from the senses when you accidently shot that guard. You ran from Blair when your dreams predicted you were going to hurt him. And all your running has gotten you where, my scared friend? Right back where you started. In Cascade. Alone.
"Jim, where the hell are you, man? You're starting to scare me."
Well, maybe not alone. He heard the voice clearly, although Blair was nowhere in sight. Deciding he didn't have the energy to find his partner, he pulled out his cell phone and dialed a familiar number. "I'm in the parking garage, Chief."
Minutes later, Blair joined him in the cab. "Sorry for scaring you."
Blair frowned. "You heard me, man?"
Jim nodded. "Just figured it was easier to call than pinpoint your location."
"In the stairwell between the fourth and fifth floors.... I didn't call all that loud, man. Were you trying to hear me?"
Caught up in his own misery, Jim didn't understand what Blair was getting so excited about. "I didn't even know you were in the building, Chief. Well, at least not consciously." Simon had noted that Jim was always aware when Blair entered the station. He would cock his head to one side and relax just a fraction.
Blair looked at his partner with a thousand questions, and they all faded away when he truly saw the dejected man beside him. For all his declarations of being a loner, of not caring about anyone's opinion of him, Jim had a secret desire to be liked-- not because he played sports, or was the best soldier, or the best cop-- but merely because he was Jim, however flawed that may be. "I'm sorry, man," he said softly.
"What do you have to be sorry for, Chief?"
"I'm sorry that they hurt you. I'm sorry they let you down."
Jim gripped the steering wheel. "I'm the one who let them down. I brought you into their world, declared you my partner, and warned them against hurting you. Then I proceeded to do just that."
"You didn't betray me, Jim." He hated the sound of that word. Jim had accused him of betrayal...and it had nearly destroyed him. If he had been faced with a group of friends shouting that at him, he would have been totally devastated. As Jim was. "Honesty time here, man."
"That seems to be the theme of the day."
Blair threw his arm across the back of the seat so he could lightly touch Jim as he spoke. He didn't want Jim sinking further into depression. "You did betray me, Jim." The detective flinched and Blair gave up the pretense of casually grounding him. His hand rested completely on Jim's shoulder. "But not with Alex, not with the creation of Davy. You betrayed me here in Cascade when you wouldn't talk to me, when you didn't tell me about your dreams of the dying wolf, or about seeing the spotted jaguar. Damn it! I am your Guide, Jim, and your shaman. My purpose in your life is to interpret these things for you. You told me you accepted that...but instead of confiding in me, you pushed me away. That hurt, man."
"I know," Jim whispered brokenly.
"But that was the only betrayal, Jim, which means I'm one up on you." Oddly glittering eyes peered at him. "Working with another Sentinel, without your prior permission, was a betrayal. In my own defense, you and I both know I'm winging this Guide gig most of the time. But, yes, I suspected there would be trouble between the two of you. Did I know the main trouble was going to be me? Looking back, I should have. I mean, I'm with her for a few minutes and you end up pulling a gun on me. Duh, Blair. A very low wattage moment." He laughed at himself, then sobered as he looked directly at his friend. "For you, I think it was like having your wife come home doused in men's cologne. In other words, I cheated on you, Jim. I'm truly sorry for that. Then I add to the problem by committing another betrayal."
"This is bullshit, Chief," Jim interrupted gruffly.
"No, it's not. I betrayed you by letting you kick me out. I was so busy being hurt and angry, that I didn't interpret the signs I was given. You had become fiercely territorial. You weren't just getting rid of me, you were getting rid of everyone around you. You freaked when people touched your stuff at the station. You moved everything out of the loft; not just my stuff, but yours as well. I should have seen this, and realized that putting me out on the street was not a personal statement against me. At that moment I should have forced you to tell me what was going on."
A flat laugh. "I am not the kind of man you force."
Blair rolled his eyes. "Man, I'm always getting away with manipulating you. If I wasn't so aware that you allow me to do it, I would probably be ashamed of it. But you are programmed to let me in, and I am programmed to push inside when I have to. I have become the biggest bully where you are concerned, and yes, you have your bully moments too. But only when it's necessary, when you are trying to protect me. So, when you kicked my ass out, I should have seen it for what it was-- a protective action-- and kicked my way back in. Instead, I indulged in self-pity and ended up face down in some nasty water." The muscles beneath his hand shuddered. "Okay, big guy. We won't go there now. Just let me say that all betrayals were forgiven that day. True?"
"And we're okay with each other?"
"More than okay."
Blair smiled as he watched Jim's cheek smooth out, the jawbone relaxing back into the superb bone structure. "Good. Then what do you say about us going back up, and kicking some major Major Crime butt? Friends or not, how dare they speak for me!"
Jim laughed, and patted his partner's back. "They may have declawed the panther, but they haven't defanged the wolf."
"Damn right they haven't. And if I'm in need of backup, I think my favorite cat can find those claws again. Can't he?"
"Anything for you, Chief. Anything."
"Not exactly the day you planned, huh?" Blair asked as he handed Jim a long-necked bottle of beer. The night was warm, so the Sentinel had headed for his preferred retreat-- the balcony.
"I don't plan them anymore, Chief. Too easy to get rocked that way. One at a time is about all I can handle."
"And you're handling today okay?"
He shrugged. "Not the way I wanted them to find out, but it was going to happen sooner or later. After the initial shock wore off, it wasn't too bad. Should I even try to imagine what you said to them?"
"No, you shouldn't."
Jim was tired, but not so tired that he didn't get the hint. Blair had re-gathered the offenders in the break room as soon as they reached Major Crimes. Jim had been ordered not to listen, but considering that the big strong detectives looked like sheepish little kids when they exited the room, he figured that they had received a very stern lecture. He had been on the receiving end of Blair's lectures a time or two (or three). The man would make a hell of a parent. Speaking of....
He looked up at the stars, so familiar, so constant. "They all seem to assume you're going to help me raise David." He'd heard it all day long: you and Sandburg are going to do fine as parents; at least you have Sandy to fall back on; so the kid's going to have a crew cut on one side and a ponytail on the other? "I want you to know that I haven't made that assumption. I know what Alex did to you, Chief. I know how you feel in her presence. If you can't bear the thought of living with her child, I...I'll understand."
"No, let me finish. Shit happened when Alex came to town, even before we knew she was here. It almost destroyed both of us, literally. To this day, I remember every moment at the fountain, Chief. From looking back over my shoulder and seeing you there...pulling you out, Simon helping me perform CPR, the paramedics calling your...death. I remember them pulling me away, holding me back, their cries and sense of loss. I just kept saying over and over again that this couldn't be happening..."
"Do you remember the part where you came after me, when the jaguar and the wolf merged? Focus on that, Jim. That's what got me through the awkward period afterwards, when we weren't sure what to say to each other, or how we could get beyond the things that had been said, and done. In that instant, we were one, Jim. Then you gave me part of your strength, part of yourself, so that I could cross back over to the living. That is what I focused on when you were on the beach with Alex, when you disappeared to face her alone in the temple."
"But you can't spend your life in that moment, Chief. David will be a constant reminder. When he cries, will you have to remember that moment? When he throws up on your best shirt, or draws all over an important paper, will you have to remember it? It will be too much. The pain has to stop sometime."
"I'll let you know when it gets to be too much, Jim, and then, together, we'll decide what's the best solution, okay? I won't, can't, leave you completely. You need me--"
"And I need you. If I have to move out--"
"No. If anyone moves, it will be David and me. Might not be a good idea to have a toddler running around on this balcony anyway."
"A house in the suburbs, Jim?" Blair asked wryly, not even wanting to think about living in the loft alone.
"And a dog. An Irish setter maybe."
"Or another Expedition. Some people call it a mommy-car, don't they?"
"Daycare or a nanny?"
Jim frowned. "That's something I don't even want to think about. Maybe Sally can help. She probably knows the ins and outs of domestic help, who's reliable and safe." Sally was his father's housekeeper, and the closest person he had to a mother while he was growing up.... Hell, she was the closest person he had to a mother now.
"You want live-in help? Then it has to be a sizable house. The housekeeper's room, yours, mine, Davy's. We're talking serious money here, man."
Jim wondered if Blair had noticed he'd added his room to the list. "I have a couple of untapped resources."
Blair rolled his eyes. "I should have known you would have, Jim. Anal personalities are always prepared."
"And here I was, thinking about how nice it would be if every person had his own bathroom. But I think I'll just erase yours out."
"Aw, man. I was just teasing about that anal thing. You know that, don't you? Listen, you can draw a line through my office if you want to, but give me back my bathroom."
"Office? That's my den, Sandburg. Wide-screen TV, Santana tapes on the stereo...."
He shook his head. "Davy and I are going to have our work cut out for us."
Jim glared at his friend, noting a theme that had been running since he'd told Blair the baby's name."You're going to insist on calling him Davy, aren't you?"
"Yes, Jimmy, I am," Blair remarked, grinning. Jim's family and old acquaintances, including his ex-wife, called him Jimmy. It was so cute...and amusing as hell. Poor Jim could be sending daggers his way, and giving him hell left and right, and suddenly his mind would say, "Jimmy's really pissed at you", and he would crack up. Internally, of course. A wise man only made Jim, or even Jimmy, but so mad.
Jim returned the grin. "Okay, Chiefy."
"You're a sick man, Jim."